Anyone who loves fishing or even seafood knows about sturgeon fish. Many anglers have wrangled the species, and many more have enjoyed its luxurious caviar.
You may not know that the sturgeon is a general name for about 29 different species in the Acipenseridae family.
The expansive group of fish includes mainly freshwater species closely related to the paddlefish.
We can learn more about sturgeons by digging into the different types that exist worldwide.
The Atlantic Sturgeon, scientifically known as the Acipenser oxyrinchus oxyrinchus, is a large sturgeon species currently under protected status. This fish can grow up to an impressive 14 feet in length and may weigh as much as 800 pounds.
Though the Atlantic Sturgeon can be a massive creature, it has many threats, including overfishing and habitat loss. But when left to its natural habits, the Atlantic Sturgeon can live as long as 60 years.
The Atlantic species live mainly in rivers and coastal waters, traveling from Florida to Canada. This sturgeon species has a unique appearance due to its five rows of bony plates (scutes) and distinct snout.
The Shortnose Sturgeon (Acipenser brevirostrum) gets its descriptive name from the appearance of the animal’s small snout shape. Shortnose Sturgeons are yellowish-brown in color and sport black on their head, back, and sides.
This species is not quite as impressive as the last. Its maximum length is around 4.5 feet, and it can weigh approximately 60 pounds.
Though they look similar to the Atlantic Sturgeon, their smaller features set them apart.
But like the Atlantic species, Shortnose Sturgeon also live in coastal rivers from Florida to Canada. However, Shortnose fish are endangered, so anglers cannot keep them. Because they look so similar to the Atlantic Sturgeon, differentiating between the two can be difficult.
Lake Sturgeons, scientifically called Acipenser fulvescens, are known for their potential for long lives. Males live only around 55 years, but the oldest females can reach an impressive 150 years of life.
As its name suggests, Lake Sturgeons reside mainly in lakes. They can be found in various locations around the country, including the Great Lakes, the Mississippi River, and the Detroit River.
These freshwater fish have long, narrow bodies similar to that of a shark. Their snouts are long and bony, and like many sturgeon species, the Lake Sturgeon is covered in bony plates called scutes. They’re also characterized by the four barbels that hang from their mouths.
The Shovelnose Sturgeon (Scaphirhynchus platorynchus) is a very unique sturgeon species easily recognized by its oddly-shaped snout. This fish’s mouth looks similar to a duck’s beak, as it flattens and curves slightly upward.
Though the body may look similar to other species, such as the Lake Sturgeon, there are more distinguishing features at play.
For example, the Shovelnose Sturgeon has four lobes on its lower lip, while the Lake species has just two.
The Shovelnose Sturgeon is typically light brown or light red with a white belly. It’s the most prevalent species in both the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, but it’s often illegal to catch due to its extremely similar appearance to the endangered Pallid Sturgeon.
The Pallid Sturgeon, also known as the Scaphirhynchus albus, is native to the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers and looks very similar to the Shovelnose Sturgeon.
Like the Shovelnose, the Pallid Sturgeon also sports a beak-like snout; however, the Pallid’s snout is even longer and more pointed than the Shovelnose.
The Pallid Sturgeon can grow to around 72 inches long and may weigh around 100 pounds. It’s an endangered species, so it’s illegal to catch and keep the fish, so don’t plan on eating one.
In addition to slight differences in the snout, a Pallid stands out due to its grayish-white color. Its barbels form a crescent shape and its body only has a few bony plates, unlike other sturgeon species.
Appropriately named, the Alabama Sturgeon (Scaphirhynchus suttkusi) can only be found in parts of the Alabama River.
This smaller species of sturgeon grows to around 30 inches and just two or three pounds. It is yellow-orange and has a long, thin snout.
In the year 2000, the Alabama Sturgeon was added to the endangered species list under the ESA.
The small sturgeon, like many of the other species, takes a long time to mature. Its females may not reproduce every year, making it difficult to maintain its population.
The Acipenser transmontanus, more commonly known as the White Sturgeon, is a west coast species of sturgeon found in coastal waters from Mexico to Alaska.
The fish primarily lives in large rivers where its status is closely monitored by CDFW.
The White Sturgeon, which is white, holds the record as the largest freshwater fish in North America. The largest ever caught was 1,500 pounds, and the species can live more than 100 years.
Another sturgeon species named for its color, the Green Sturgeon (Acipenser medirostris), stands out for its ability to live in freshwater and saltwater.
The Green Sturgeon can grow to 6.5 feet long and may weigh up to 350 pounds. It lives along the west coast, but mainly in Alaska.
These slow-growing fish are currently listed as threatened, and their habits are very different from other sturgeon species. Green Sturgeon are born in freshwater rivers, where they live for a while before moving to saltwater.
In saltwater, the fish will feed and mature, at which point it returns to freshwater to spawn.
Sturgeons are ubiquitous fish, but not many people know how many species exist. Learning more about sturgeon can help protect the delicate population.
Types of Sturgeon
There are over 20 types of sturgeon recognized by scientists and researchers around the world. These are some of the most common:
- Atlantic Sturgeon
- Shortnose Sturgeon
- Lake Sturgeon
- Shovelnose Sturgeon
- Pallid Sturgeon
- Alabama Sturgeon
- White Sturgeon
- Green Sturgeon